Showing posts with label 100k. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 100k. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

2019 Goals Reviewed

As we enter the holiday season of 2019 it is prime time to take a look back and assess goals for the past year. After much thought and consideration, I had three running goals this year:
  1. PR a marathon
  2. PR my greatest distance run
  3. Improve my cumulative time for the entire Pennsylvania Triple Crown Series
With time running out to complete any unfinished tasks on this list, it appears that I will have missed the mark on two of my three goals. Things looked great to start the year. At my first race of the year (Rat Race 50k) that I was mainly using to check my fitness level I hit a 50k PR. That wasn’t even one of my goals, but I’ll take it! I managed to smash my marathon PR by nearly 20 minutes at the NJ Marathon only one week after running the Hyner 50k checking box number 1 off my list of goals. Goal number 3 seemed to be just a matter of time as I improved my times at Hyner 50k and Worlds End 100k, but the ultimate goal of improving my cumulative time would fall out of reach at Eastern States 100. I still can’t fully explain it, but something was just off with me leading up to and during that run. That only leaves goal number 2 left, to PR my greatest distance run. Unfortunately, after Eastern States 100 I was just feeling a bit burnt out on running altogether. My original plan was to tackle a supported 200 mile trail run after recovering from Eastern States. I thought that my fitness would be there and this was a great plan, but I hadn’t accounted for the unexpected burn out (and possibly the disappointment that played a role) I would be facing at that point. So in the end, I scrapped the 200 mile attempt and accepted the one out of three goal completion rate.

Although that seems like a low completion rate which may upset some people, I am still pleased with how my 2019 running season played out. I may have not hit all of the targets I set for myself, but I had some pretty big, unexpected successes in other areas. The first being the aforementioned 50k PR and the amazing end to the race where I got smoked by Rich Riopel a quarter mile from the finish. The second major accomplishment for the past year that I am super proud of is the success I’ve found in ‘last individual standing” (LIS) races. I registered and ran my first LIS race (Run Ragged) in June just two weeks after Worlds End 100k hoping to do well, but feeling pretty uncertain about how well with the lack of recovery time between the two races. Surprisingly, I turned out to be the last one standing. I followed that race up with my second LIS race, a true backyard race organized by a running buddy of mine with the start and finish in his backyard. This was a smaller race with only around twenty some runners. I went into it intending to stop at the 50 mile mark because Eastern States 100 was just four weeks away, but by that time it was down to me and one other runner. I decided to stay in it a bit longer and the other runner ended up timing out after finishing only one more lap. Again, I was the last one standing. With those two results, I’m excited to test myself next year at a more competitive LIS race and see what I’m capable of there.

So that more or less wraps up my goals and their outcomes for 2019. Now it is time to look ahead to next year and decide which endeavors I intend to tackle. I still want to PR my greatest distance run and take a shot at a 24 hour race, so I’m thinking I should be able to hit both of those targets in a single event. As for what else is on my to do list next year, I’ll have to give it some thought.

Scott Snell
November 27, 2019

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

2019 Worlds End 100k

Nobody will protect you from your suffering. You can't cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away or punch it away or even therapy it away. It's just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. You have to live through it and love it and move on and be better for it and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by your own desire to heal.

Going into Worlds End (WE) 100k this year my head was not in a good place for both personal life reasons and running related reasons. Advanced warning before you get too far into reading this report, as I begin to write it I fear it will sound like I’m whining and will get into some nonrunning related issues in my life. If you want a more Worlds End running focused report check out my 2017 and 2018 reports. Otherwise if you’re somewhat intrigued with a poor mental state leading up to a race and a lesson learned from it, by all means continue reading. For multiple reasons to be explained, I was battling a lack of motivation, questioning my abilities, and suffering from an overall rather pessimistic outlook in general.

The day before at registration.
I’ll start with the running issues that contributed to me having a bit of lack of motivation and confidence leading up to WE. I was feeling pumped based on my two most recent races before WE. I ran my best time after three attempts at Hyner 50k and a week later I ran a road marathon PR at the NJ Marathon. With basically just a month between the NJ Marathon and WE I planned to do an easy recovery week, ramp up with a decent training week, get in a quality 20ish mile long run, then ease into a taper. Things went as planned up until that quality 20ish mile long run. I got in my 20 mile long run, but it by no means felt like a quality run. My legs felt heavy from the start, I felt tired and sluggish for the entire run, and I struggled to maintain what I felt like should have been an easy pace for flat, nontechnical trails. So I did the only logical thing I could do, I did a 20 mile road run the following weekend expecting it to be much faster and to feel much better about myself going into WE. That follow up long run did not go as planned either. I felt better and was slightly faster (20.08 miles in 2:49:41 versus 20.0 miles in 2:59:27), but the small pace improvement and still not feeling strong while achieving it did very little to improve my confidence.


With back to back weekends of disappointing long runs behind me, the next weekend I followed the most logical course of action: I asked for advice from a retired Olympic trampolinist (aka my brother in law). After talking about training cycles, building, peaking, and my lack of all of those things much less a training plan, he said I should just rest the last week before WE. I took that advice and did not run at all for an entire week before WE. I had never tapered that hard before, so I was extremely nervous not even having a couple easy paced short runs the week leading into WE. It also didn’t help improve my confidence at all, but as my brother in law was suggesting, the training and endurance are already there, my body just needs a break to recuperate before being pushed again.

Now to go over the non running issues that were contributing to my less than ideal mental state for the start of WE. I shouldn’t say issues, as it was more so a singular work related issue. For the most part I’m usually pretty good about not letting work frustrations bother me outside of work, but given this situation I could not let it not bother me. In an attempt to not make this a long, drawn out complaining post, I will try to sum up the main points of the situation quickly. Basically, I was offered a temporary detail promotion because the manager of our office had been reassigned to a one year detail. Not long after accepting I was told the position didn’t exist and so I could not have the promotion but I could still do the additional duties that came along with the promotion. Not such a good deal. Not long after that development the temporary detail position was advertised and two other employees from other offices were selected for the three and four month temporary acting manager details. The motivating factors that went into the decision making are still unknown to me. Being passed over for a temporary promotion that I was told doesn’t exist after I had unofficially been doing the additional duties of that position for four months was enough to make me update my resume and start job searching, but not do anything crazy like quit on the spot. Anyway, that’s enough non running stuff to explain why my head was out of sorts.
The view from my cozy car camping.
To add to my disappointment just before the race, my family had a last minute change of plans for the race weekend. We had planned to make an extended camping trip out of this race weekend with our neighbors who have kids that are friends with ours coming along for the trip. I had been telling my family and theirs about how great Worlds End State Park is and how nice the camp sites are for two years. I had finally convinced them to come along for a camping trip and 100k trail run. Unfortunately, the weather reports for extended thunderstorms and rain for the entire weekend caused our neighbors to fear that it would be a miserable weekend for camping so they bailed on us. I got the news Thursday afternoon when I arrived home from work. Making the blow sting even worse, my family decided to back out as well since their friends wouldn’t be coming along. In a flash my weekend went from running an awesome, scenic 100k with my friends and family there to cheer me on and celebrate with afterwards to just me taking off for the weekend.

Between the poor long training runs, last minute plan changes, and the professional life disappointments I was feeling confused, cynical, and worthless which is not a good way to start an ultra. Regardless of the outcome, I showed up even if my attitude about it was pretty crappy. I tried to convince myself that I was excited for it and that even if things weren’t going well in my professional life I at least still had ultramarathons as an escape, but when I woke up the morning of the race after a night of camping the initial thought I had was “time to get this over with.” Not the best mindset to start a gueling 15ish hour endeavor, but I had faith that once I became immersed in the trail running things would start to feel right. 

Just before the finish!
Makes it all worthwhile!

For the most part, that’s exactly what happened. I tried to turn on autopilot and just run the course basically the same way I did in 2018, going out at a comfortable pace while taking in plenty of calories and not blowing up. Pretty much everything fell into place. The course didn’t completely cooperate, but it didn’t bother me. It had been wet leading up to the race and the course had long stretches of extremely sloppy, swampy areas. It reminded me of the conditions from my first time at WE in 2017. That year it really got to me because every stretch of trail that looked runnable ended up being a sloppy mess and I was not able to get into any kind of rhythm. This year was different. Even though the conditions were similar, I managed to still move in a way that felt efficient and consistent. I felt strong on the climbs, my stomach never felt upset, and I was never completely exhausted. It was almost a perfect repeat of last year based on performance, only slightly faster as I finished in 14:11:21 compared to my 14:18:47 finish last year. 

I mentioned at the beginning that there was a lesson learned for me from this whole experience. It wasn’t about how important thinking positively going into an ultra is because I was pretty negative going into this one and still executed better than last year. The lesson for me was that ultramarathons or running in general can’t always be used as an escape from other issues in my life. Or maybe more accurately, ultras and this silly hobby of mine will not resolve other life challenges. I went into this race with a bad attitude. Then the race was going well and I had a great time. I felt even better when the outcome was an improvement over last year. But afterwards all of the circumstances that had caused my mental anguish had not changed. I had just lowered the amount of attention I allowed them for a few days. This may be kind of a sour note to end a report of a positive race on, but that is how this chapter of this ultra season ended for me.

At the finish celebration!

Scott Snell
August 14, 2019

Sunday, September 9, 2018

2018 Twisted Branch 100k

The Starting Line. Photo credit for all photos with TB logo:  Goat Factory Media Entertainment
“Your movement, your effort is a pinnacle of what you can do” 
-- Joe Grant

The Twisted Branch 100k is a 64ish mile trail race that makes use of the extensive Finger Lakes Trail system to provide a point to point course from Naples, NY to Hammondsport, NY. The course offers just a small sample of the Finger Lakes Trail system as the trail network in its entirety covers over 950 miles of trail. The trail system is managed by the Finger Lakes Trail Conference (FLTC) and maintained primarily by volunteers. With that in mind, I want to begin this race report with a huge thank you to the FLTC and all of the volunteers who have given their time to build and maintain these trails for me and so many others like myself to enjoy. Your work is truly very much appreciated.

Having never hiked or ran any of the Finger Lakes Trails before, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I tried doing a little research before by searching for images and videos of the trails and reading a few race reports from previous years of the TB100k. All the images and videos I could find made the trail look pretty runnable. Nothing I found made it look anywhere near as challenging as the Worlds End 100k course which is the only other 100k I had previously run so I was using that as my basis for comparison. Comparing the course records for the two races (10:14 for TB100k and 11:37 for WE 100K) seemed to support my conclusion that Twisted Branch should be a faster 100k than Worlds End. The race reports I read made me question this conclusion as they often described the trails as rugged and tough. Several of the reports told accounts of chasing cut offs and missing cut offs. In talking with others who had run the course, I often heard it described as tricky, which perplexed me a bit as a course description. I decided to cautiously rely more heavily on the hard numbers of the course records and trail photos as evidence that TB 100k would be a less challenging course than WE and that as long as I a have a good day I would be able to finish the course faster than WE.

Camping Area at the Start.
I began checking weather forecasts about a week out as I do for every race and found that most forecasts were predicting rain for nearly the entire weekend. As race day got closer, the forecasts changed a bit and were only predicting rain over night before the race and during the AM hours of race day. I planned accordingly and packed my drop bag with dry socks and a dry pair of shoes and labeled it for “The Lab” aid station which would be just before the halfway point and hopefully after the rain had stopped. With a plan in place which could not possibly fail, I was ready for race day. 

Pre Race Registration. Photo credit:  Goat Factory Media Entertainment
There was a light drizzle of rain as we set up our tent at the camping area near the starting line, but not a full on rain as I thought we might be in for. The registration area was a bit more crowded than most ultras I’ve run. It was also one of the few that I’ve been to that have vendor tables. Altra, Darn Tough Socks, and couple others were there. After picking up my swag bag, having my pre race photo taken, and chatting with the Altra rep for a bit, it was time for the mandatory pre race meeting where the Race Director, Scott Magee, went over race information and safety precautions. Shortly after the remaining daylight began fading quickly so I helped get the kids ready for bed and than put myself to bed in hopes of getting some good sleep before the early 4 AM race start. 

Camping Area at the Start
My alarm went off and woke me from a dead sleep, from dreams that I can’t remember. This is a good thing. That means that I slept well. I went through my standard race morning prep: lube (I tried using Squirrel’s Nut Butter for the first time as I got a sample at registration) the feet and areas that chafe, take two Imodium pills, eat two peanut butter sandwiches, and try to poop. With my race morning ritual complete, I headed to the starting area and finished the final check in. I ran into one running buddy at the starting area who was pacing for someone at the race, but otherwise I didn’t see many of the other familiar faces I’ve come to expect at PA trail races. We chatted a bit about the course and how neither of us had much of any kind of idea of what to expect. After a few minutes, the RD began a final pre race announcement and the race was on.
My Friend, Royce
The course starts out on trail just wide enough to run two abreast, but the trail quickly narrows to single track. Starting out the day cautiously, I didn’t want to push too hard to get ahead early and ended up in a bit of a conga line somewhere in the middle of the pack. My initial impression of the trails were that they are somewhat technical with a good deal of exposed roots that were slick due to the wet conditions, but they were completely runnable in my opinion. I began questioning early on if I was taking it too easy to start as the conga line was hiking many of the short and not too steep climbs that I thought were runnable. For better or worse, I reigned in my ego and only passed any other runners when another runner near me decided to make a pass. This meant I was not alone at all until the I reached the first aid station (Cutler) at 6 miles. I ate a gel and shoved one in my vest for later and continued on. Shortly after the first AS, the course hopped onto the first paved road portion of the course. At this point runners began to spread out a bit which I was thankful for because it was feeling a bit congested to me on the tight single track having a runner immediately in front of and behind me for the first six miles.
It's all business at the aid stations.
After about a half mile of road we were back on the trails. I was with a group of about four other runners, two of whom were the lead females who spent the next stretch of trail trading the lead with one another. It was at about this time that the sky really opened up and the rain started to fall. The sun was just starting to rise, but it was still awfully dark on the trails with the stormy skies and shadows from the forest blocking the majority of the light. The miles began to pass quickly and quietly with this group in the rain until somewhere shortly after aid station 3 that I found myself running all alone on a paved road. It was here at about the 17 mile mark that I clicked off some faster road miles with what felt like minimal effort that I started thinking about race strategy. I looked at the race the way a wise ultrarunner that I met and ran with for a good part of the course this year and last at Worlds End. He broke the 100k distance in roughly 20 mile sections and tackled them individually. He explained it as having a plan for each section. For me this meant taking the first third of the race easy. At this point in the day I felt I had achieved that and my legs were still feeling good. I figured the next 20ish miles I would push the pace a bit and then the last 20 I would try to maintain and see what’s left at the end. 
While the Rain Was Falling
Employing this strategy, I ran the 10 miles or so at what felt like a harder effort. At that point I reached aid station 5, “The Lab”, where my dry shoes and socks were waiting. While changing and thinking about how great my feet would feel after being soggy for the last three hours or so, a volunteer reminded me that they would likely get soaked again. Not what I wanted to hear, but true nonetheless. I headed out from the aid station enjoying my dry feet for the moment. It was probably only a matter of one to two miles before a road crossing that had a small river running along the side of it that was uncrossable without going ankle deep. Shortly after that the course rounded the edge of a corn field where my feet sank just short of ankle deep in the soaked ground. The dry clean socks were glorious while they lasted.
After the Rain... You Live Again!! (You know you just sang that Nelson song)
Even with wet feet, I was still feeling good for the next 13 miles or so to aid station 7, “Bud Valley”. I passed a few runners in that stretch which is always a bit of a mental boost. Even more of a mental boost was that my wife and kids were waiting at this aid station to support me. I spent a little more time than normal at this aid just to get a hug from the wife and kids, but moved out trying to pick up the pace a bit as my wife informed me that the last runner had just left the aid station a few minutes earlier. The second half of a longer distance race is the part that I find most enjoyable. Yes, it will likely be far more painful than the first half, but if you start your race with the middle of the packers and race conservatively until the second half you begin to see the carnage the distance inflicts on the runners that went out too hard. Even if you’re hurting a bit, when you pass another runner at the 37 mile mark who still has about a marathon distance to go and looks half dead already, it makes your situation seem far more manageable. It motivates me to push to catch the next runner who went out too hard and blew up 20 miles from the finish. It’s not the right strategy for every runner and to each their own, but for me running a smart first half and trying to close the second half strong has worked out pretty well. 
The Finish Arch
I felt like I was chasing this runner who had “just left” AS 7 forever. One aid station and about 10 miles later I finally caught sight of him. He was climbing the last big gain before aid station 9, “Lake David”, at about mile 50. He was climbing strong and at this point my quads were starting to feel the wear of all of the small and short climbs throughout the middle section of the course. I was motivated to catch him though as I hadn’t seen any other runners since AS 5. After the climb the course drops you out into a clearing around a large lake with the aid station on the opposite side of the lake. I circled the lake chasing him and trying to look like I wasn’t tired after just redlining it on that climb. He got into the aid just before me and barely even stopped. Although I didn’t pass through as quickly as this guy I was chasing, there were a couple other runners (or a runner and pacer, not sure) in the aid station as we passed through which helped keep me from feeling too bad about watching this guy I’ve been chasing down for the last two hours breezing through the aid station.

I was a bit demoralized at this point as the guy I chased for so long was out of sight again leaving the aid station, but I realized I had less than 15 miles until the finish and my legs felt ok still. I knew that if there was any time to push it now was that time. I turned to the words of my 4 and 6 year old boys the night before for encouragement. The younger of the two told me to win the race. I had responded with it being unlikely, but I would do my best. My older boy told me to get in the top five. Having no idea what place I was in at the time, but knowing that I’ve been only gaining places since starting off with the mid-packers I fantasized that a top five finish may be possible. But it would only be possible if I pushed hard for the remainder of the race. I did something I usually don’t do during races and put my headphones in and turned on some music. I immediately felt an increase in energy. I started cranking out some faster miles immediately. Within minutes I passed another runner who had blown up. A few minutes after that I finally caught the guy I had been chasing on a downhill stretch of fire road. I told him that I had found my third wind after turning on some music and he gave me a pat on the back as I passed him. Not too long after that my headphones started crapping out on me. Not wanting to fight with them and get pissed off about it, I just took them off and put them away. From there on I had a new mantra: “honest effort”. I didn’t know what place I was in and I didn’t want to get passed by anyone so at every little incline or climb where I began to think that it would be nice to take a break from running and hike this I told myself to give an honest effort to run it before resorting to hiking. And with that mantra I did not stop running for much.

And now time to recover.
I spent more time at the second to last aid station than I wanted to just because the volunteers there were so cheerful and fun. I was in a bit of a goofy state of mind, but managed to push myself through after a pic (which I would love to see) of me giving a two thumbs up rating for the awesome course. I reached the final aid station, “Urbana”, without any runners catching me which was now my greatest fear. I drank coke and ate a gel which was my standard aid station routine at this point. It was a busy aid station with lots of spectators which was great to motivate me for the last big climb of the race which followed immediately after. After what was probably the steepest and most continual climb of the course I finally became frustrated. It wasn’t the fact that my dry shoes got soaked after only a mile or so. It wasn’t that tough climb just six miles from the finish. It was all of the little climbs between that final big climb and the finish. For the last four miles or so of this race it feels like the trail just messes with you and takes you up and down the same hillside. Maybe it was due to the nearly 13 hours of running previously, but I did not enjoy the last four miles of this course until I exited the trail to see the final road crossing and the finish line on the other side. Maybe that’s just the “tricky” part of this course.

Me Looking Disappointed at My Beat Up Feet
At the finish I got to give a big high five to my son who was perched on the bridge just before the finish line. I finished in 12:56:21 (which was only good enough for 8th place, apologies to my sons), well under my goal time of 14 hours. In retrospect, maybe my goal time wasn’t challenging enough. But when you’re running a course that is completely unfamiliar, it’s easy to misjudge. I am definitely guilty of that with my first crack at Worlds End where I severely underestimated how much the difficulty of the course would slow down my pace. While the Twisted Branch course was definitely not as technical as Worlds End, I’m not saying it is an easy course. There is still nearly as much elevation gain (10,458’ at TB and 12,091’ at WE) according to my Strava data. In my opinion, it was the road sections of the TB course that really improved my overall pace. When you can crank out some sub 9 minute miles on a rolling downhill paved road it’s going to increase that average pace even if there’s only about 5 road miles on the course. I kinda enjoyed the road sections to break up the course a bit also. It felt good to be able to just open it up a little and not worry about footing for a break every once in awhile. Another item that set this race apart from others was the Excel pacing tool provided on the website. This amazing Excel sheet was the most useful pace planning tool I have ever experienced. I may be a bit more impressed by it than most just because I'm a bit of a spreadsheet nerd, but I encourage you to play with it and then tell me it's not cool. On top of all of this, the finish area was awesome with great food (the burritos and broth were amazing) and a local brewery (The Brewery of Broken Dreams) had kegs of an IPA and stout. All in all, I highly recommend checking out Twisted Branch if you’re in the market for a 64ish mile adventure. And this just in, I recently heard that Twisted Branch is now a Western States qualifier race. So if that's your jam, here's another Beast Coast option.
Felt good to clean up at the lake at the finish!

Scott Snell
September 9, 2018

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

2018 Worlds End 100k

Two Years, Two Buckles

Two years of buckles.
Author’s Note: This race report was written after the announcement that the 2018 Eastern States 100 was cancelled. As a runner who was planning to run the PA Triple Crown Series, this news came as a huge disappointment. I tried to not let the feelings of unfulfilled expectations impact this writing, but some degree of letdown may have bled through in the process. Regardless, I hope you enjoy.

Prepping for the 2018 Worlds End 100k was much different than my preparation for it in 2017. My training regimen and fitness level was about the same, but my mental state was vastly different. I went into 2017 extremely confident after a much better than expected performance at Hyner 50k. I underestimated the difficulty of the Worlds End 100k course and overestimated my abilities which resulted in a much longer and less enjoyable day in 2017. This year I knew what I was facing and had a much greater deal of respect for the course and the challenges it would present. Learning from my experience last year, I made a few changes to the way I ran the course this year hoping to avoid repeating the most negative experiences I had.

A view of Loyalsock Creek near the start/finish area.

My actual training was about the same as last year, lots of running trail miles while trying to get as much elevation gain as is possible in South Jersey. Since there’s very little elevation change anywhere in South Jersey, this year I tried to supplement my running regimen with other workouts: lunges, box jumps, and burpees. My hope was that although I’m not getting a ton of elevation gain during runs to build my climbing ability and endurance, the other workouts focused on my legs would prepare them for the long, demanding climbs that nearly destroyed me last year.

Photo credit:  Tania Lezak (
Last year I was nervously excited leading up to the race and just plain nervous right before the race. This year was different. During the entire training period I was just excited to have another go at Worlds End and to do it better than last year. My goal for the year was to improve my cumulative time for the PA Triple Crown Series. I had set myself up well to meet that goal as I was only five minutes off from my time last year at Hyner and I knew that was the one race with the least room for improvement. I knew that as long as I had a good day my 2018 Worlds End time would be better than last year and likely by more than five minutes. On top of feeling like I was well prepared for this race and on my way to achieving a big goal, I knew a lot of people who would be running Worlds End. These are other runners I’ve met over the last few years at other races and training runs. I was pretty excited just to have the chance to catch up with all of them at one race since I only see the majority of them a few times a year.

I made the sixish hour drive from South Jersey to Worlds End State Park in the PA Wilds on Friday, cursing the Philadelphia traffic just before the midway point of the trip. I grabbed my race packet, chatted with a few folks I hadn’t seen in awhile, and then headed to the same campsite I stayed at last year. Weather forecasts from about a week out had been predicting a washout the night before and day of the race. With wet weather seeming imminent, I was set to sleep in my car rather than dealing with getting soggy the night before the race in my water “resistant” tent. I ended up sharing a campsite with a buddy that was planning to sleep in his car as well, but didn’t have a campsite lined up. We caught up a bit that evening and talked race strategies before retiring pretty early to get a good night’s rest before the 5 AM start to a long day on the trails.

Just off the course, but you will
see boulders like this on course.
Thankfully, the forecasts for a rainy day were wrong and we were blessed with some near perfect running weather at the start of the race and for the entirety of the day. After a pre race speech we were off and running promptly at 5 AM. I felt good and my breathing was relaxed unlike last year when my breathing felt shallow and labored, I think mostly just due to nerves, for the first 10 miles or so. After the short stretch of road right at the start, we hit the technical trails that were heavily strewn with slick, wet rocks and roots. Even with the treacherous footing, I was more confident and felt more in control this year compared to last year. I believe there are two major reasons for this improvement: firstly, I was committed to starting with a more conservative effort this year rather than last year when I went out hard from the start and tried to maintain for as long as possible (that turned out to be a bit of a failure); secondly, the runners around me this year seemed far more calm and controlled than the runner I was directly behind during this initial stretch of trail last year. I’m not trying to criticize anyone’s technique or running style, but this guy I ran behind at the start of the race last year was slipping and nearly spilling every few steps the entire time I was behind him. I was honestly worried for his safety the entire time I followed him. I was nervous to start, and witnessing this made me even more nervous. Thankfully, this year everyone around me was as or more sure footed than me and going out at a pace that allowed for comfortable conversations.

There are two pretty solid climbs between the start and the first aid station (High Rock) at mile 4.3. I didn’t want to lose much time at aid stations so went through pretty quickly, eating a gel and shoving one in a pocket of my hydration pack to eat on the trail. This was my basic nutrition plan for the day: a gel at and between every aid station. Additionally, I planned to start eating some real food around the halfway point, basically whatever looked or sounded good to me at that point. The next six miles to aid station 2 (Sones Pond) are more runnable than the first section with only one steep but not too long of a climb. I ran these six miles at just slightly faster than what I like to call my “forever pace”, basically a pace you feel you could maintain indefinitely without rest. After a quick chat with a runner (shout out Christian) I had met on a long training run earlier in the year, I continued my nutrition plan and ran the next 5.6 miles to AS 3, Devils Garden. This stretch is basically a medium distance descent followed by a medium climb. It was during this stretch that I caught up to and ran with another running buddy (shout out Steve) who was running the race while still recovering from a bit of an injury. Additionally, and for reasons I don’t understand, he was also running the first half without carrying any hydration of any sort. I get it that all ultrarunners are probably a bit of masochists to some degree, but this just seemed to me to be a bit ridiculous. In his defense, he intended to drop before the halfway point. After chatting for a bit, there was no doubt in my mind that he was not going to finish the race. To my surprise and amazement, he got his water bottle from his drop bag at the halfway point and finished the full 100k. So nothing but respect to you sir!

I ran the short 3.4 mile stretch between AS 3 to AS 4 (Worlds End) at what still felt a comfortable and sustainable pace. I started drinking some soda (Mountain Dew or Coke) at aid station stops at this point for some additional calories. From last year I recalled the next 2.9 miles to AS 5 (Canyon Vista) as being some long, slow miles tackling some big climbs. While this section is mostly climbing with very little of it being flat or runnable, I felt much stronger taking it on this year and actually covered the distance more quickly than last year. Last year I was already beginning to feel exhausted at this point, so much so that my awareness of my surroundings was diminished to the point that I didn’t even notice the beautiful vista from the Canyon Vista AS. Not so this year. I took in the view and realized how much better I was feeling this year in comparison to last year’s race. I didn’t plan it, but that would then become my mantra for the remainder of the day: “Remember how you felt last year at this point? This year is so much better!”.

The view from Canyon Vista.
The next 5.5 miles to AS 6 Coal Mine are a bit more runnable made up of shorter climbs and descents. I started to let the reigns on my pace go a bit as I was still feeling kinda fresh given I was a third of the way done. Even so, my splits were still a mix of faster and slower than last year’s. All the while I was doing trail math to see if I was on pace to finish faster than last year. I didn’t completely trust my math, but I kept on calculating a faster finish time if I just maintained what so far had felt like a very manageable pace. I passed through Coal Mine, which I would argue may be the most festive and high energy aid station on the course (they also most strongly encourage the consumption of alcohol) and started in on the 8.1 mile stretch to High Knob taking two gels with me for the longer stretch. This section is made up of a medium descent and two respectable climbs. My feet were beginning to feel sore from having been wet for most of the first half of the race from soggy trail sections and small creek crossings. A big change I made this year was that I had A+D ointment, fresh socks, and dry shoes waiting for me at High Knob. With the excitement of hitting the halfway point and the refreshments in my drop bag pushing me on, I managed the climbs to High Knob without much trouble. I took some extra time at the AS to cover my feet and any chafed areas with A+D, change my shoes and socks, and eat a couple perogies. It was a smart decision because afterwards my feet felt amazing and pain free. There is about a two mile stretch of runnable downhill leaving High Knob where I decided I was going to start pushing my pace a bit and cranked out my fastest miles of the day. It was also at this point that I realized my stomach was starting to revolt against all the gels I had been forcing down. Between the gel and Tailwind concoction sloshing around in my belly and the extra bouncing around running the downhill a bit faster, my stomach unexpectedly said “no thanks” and I ended up with a surprising mouthful of vomit. I managed to chew it back and force those hard earned calories back into my stomach to finish digesting. After the descent there is a big climb before completing the 5.8 mile stretch to Dry Run (AS 8).

How could I have missed the Vista in 2017?

It was around this point that the race started getting really interesting for me. During my stop at High Knob, I was updated by a friend of another running buddy that my running buddy (shout out to Nate) who I hadn’t seen since the start of the race was only about 20 minutes ahead of me and looked really strong. With that update, I didn’t think I would see him until the finish. But then I thought about it some more. I was feeling really good after the halfway point. Twenty minutes on this course could be only a one mile distance of a long tough climb. Also, he went out hard from the start like I did last year. If that fast pace is going to catch up to him, it would likely be happening soon as it did me last year around this point of the race. All of this gave me hope that I may see him again before the finish, so I pushed myself on trying to up my pace a bit (we have a bit of a friendly competitive thing going on). After Dry run it is 3.8 miles to McCarty (AS 9), a water only aid station. From there it is a medium climb and descent to cover the 4.6 miles to Brunnerdale (AS 10). It was somewhere during that climb that I caught up to my buddy. I was a bit surprised to see him and I’m not sure if I surprised him, but he seemed a bit spent at that point. I finished the climb with him and ran some of the downhill with him before wishing him well and picking up the pace a bit to reach the next aid station, Brunnerdale. I was getting a bit hungry at this point and tired of the taste of gels. I took a little extra time to eat some real food, mostly pickles and grilled cheeses. While refueling, my buddy rolled into the aid station and joined all the volunteers there in encouraging me to do a few shots of the Fireball they were offering (like I said, we’re a bit competitive with one another). I regretfully declined and headed out from the aid station just before my friend. It would be a climb, descent, and climb to cover the 4.9 miles to the next water only aid station, The Gate (AS 11). From there it’s another three miles of smaller hills to Fern Rock (AS 12), the final aid station. I focused mostly only on moving forward as quickly as possible to avoid getting caught by my friend, but looked back a few times during this stretch and saw no sign of him.

I ate a few Tums to settle my stomach which was feeling a bit queasy then left spending little time at the final aid station to hurry on and finish the last 5.9 miles of the race. To my surprise and distress, within seconds of leaving the aid station I heard a loud cheer from the volunteers there. Without a doubt, another runner was coming in just as I left. I couldn’t be sure, but I figured it was probably my buddy trying to close on me during the home stretch. Most of the last section is pretty nontechnical and runnable without any big climbs. I had hoped that this would be the part of my day where I just comfortably cruised in for the finish. Given the situation though, I was running this section scared, checking over my shoulder a few times every mile. There’s one stretch (maybe about a half mile) of straight paved road in this section. With my friend having been a damn fine road marathoner, I knew that would be his prime opportunity to close on me, but there was no sign of him as I anxiously looked back. Suddenly, with about two miles to go I was no longer worried about being chased. I caught sight of two runners about a quarter mile ahead of me. All of my focus and effort went to chasing rather than being chased. Shortly after I saw them they saw me and started to book it. The chase was on. I lost sight of them as they hopped onto the final single track that takes you down a gnarly and steep descent before dropping you out into the parking area of the start/finish area. I saw them again and they seemed within reach on this technical descent, but they disappeared again as the trail ended at the parking area. When I reached that point I saw them sprinting around the parking area towards the finish and I gave it my all to catch them, but they still had enough in their legs to maintain a gap. I finished about 30 seconds back with a story of what was the most exciting and probably the tightest finish I had ever experienced in any ultra I’ve ever run.

And with that intense last six miles of being chased and chasing over, it was time to celebrate with friends, food, and some IPAs from New Trail Brewing Company. My buddy came in just about 10 minutes behind me and let me know that it was in fact him that came into the final aid station just as I was leaving. The finish line food was just as amazing as last year and this year my stomach was able to handle it a bit better. After a couple hours of food, drinks, telling stories of our days and listening to everyone’s adventures, the exhaustion began to set in and I decided it was time to get clean and crash in my sleeping bag.

The start/finish area, very empty (also very clean) the day after.
I went into this race with a better plan than last year and a better mindset. Ultimately it paid off and I finished 34 minutes and 39 seconds faster than last year, making up the five minutes and far more that I was off at the finish of the Hyner. Knowing this made the finish so much more valuable. I finally felt like I was beginning to figure out a few more key elements of this whole ultrarunning thing after hammering away at it for a few years. It felt like real progress towards improvement. Later, this feeling was reinforced when I compared my Garmin data from last year’s Worlds End to this year (Chart 1 and Table 1). Both tell the same story of my day and tell me that my strategy of going out easy (2018) made for a much better overall performance than going out too hard (2017) and trying to maintain. It reinforced my interpretation of my 2017 performance that I basically bonked and blew up around mile 40. What is truly intriguing to me is that it wasn’t until after mile 50 that I actually would have passed myself running my 2017 race and I was able to gain over a half hour on my time in the last 10 miles. It really drove home the lesson for me about how devastating blow ups and bonks are. However, in contrast, if you never blow up or push to that level you may always wonder what more was possible. Regardless, I wasn’t asking that at this finish. I was too happy with having a plan that worked and executing well.

Scott Snell

July 4, 2018

Strava data ------>

Chart 1
Worlds End 100k Garmin Pace Data - 2017 VS. 2018
Line graph of 2017 and 2018 Worlds End 100k Garmin splits data.

Table 1
Worlds End 100k Garmin Pace Data - 2017 VS. 2018
WE '17
WE '18
Cumulative '17
Cumulative '18
Garmin split data comparing 2017 to 2018 Worlds End 100k.